My Overall University Experience

I have now finished university and found out that I will be graduating with a 2:1. I can’t tell you how pleased I am with my result and how proud I am of myself as it’s not been easy, so I thought I’d write a post on my overall university experience as it’s the end of an era for me. I thought that it may help some of you, but it’s also something that I can look back on in the future.

I’ve split this post into each year of university so that I can discuss each one in more detail as they were all completely different.

I hope you enjoy this post! It’s a long one so grab a drink or a snack and enjoy!

 

Preparing for university

I first applied for university towards the end of 2013, I had previously attended several open days earlier in the year and contacted the universities and decided where to apply for and which courses I wanted to also apply for. I weighed up all the factors, and decided that York St John university was the university for me. The Head of Programme of the Children, Young People and Families course was really accommodating and seemed to understand my needs, she seemed approachable and willing to help me in every way possible. AT the time, I didn’t feel confident enough to live in halls of residence so I decided that I wanted to commute. I made sure that I did everything early such as applying for student Finance and DSA (Disabled Students Allowance), this meant that I received my DSA equipment early too which was a great advantage. For those of you that don’t know what DSA is, it is an allowance that disabled students can apply for, which means that they can have equipment to help them with their studies, support, mobility training and much more. During the summer of 2014, I received my A-level results meaning that I had got a place at my first choice university which was obviously York St John. I can’t tell you how happy I was, as I had basically convinced myself that I wasn’t going to get in. Everyone believed in me, but I didn’t believe in myself. I think this was a turning point for me though, as I realised that my hard work had paid off and that I could actually achieve something if I put my mind to it.

I also had a final meeting with the Head of Programme and Disability Support to double check that everything was in place, and how they could best support me. My Head of Programme also got my timetable early for me, so that I knew what days I had lectures, and so that I could learn the routes to the lecture and seminar rooms.

I had orientation and mobility training around campus a couple of weeks before my university journey started so that I knew the routes when I started lectures so that I had some idea of where I was going and also because the campus was quiet so it made it easier to carry out such training. I was extremely nervous about doing orientation and mobility training as I wasn’t the most confident cane user, and didn’t really like using one. You can read my story on embracing the cane here. I’m pleased to say that this was the first time that I really did enjoy using the cane and honestly did enjoy mobility training. After all this, I was just about ready to start my journey at York St John University.

 

First year

Like every student, starting university is a nerve-racking and daunting time, and my experience as a visually impaired student was no different. Like I said, I did orientation and mobility training around the university campus so that I could attempt to navigate campus with my long cane. I was nervous about using my cane around university as I hadn’t had the best experience of doing so in school, but I thought that university might be different so wanted to try and give it a shot.

Freshers week (welcome week) arrived and I was feeling both excited and nervous; excited for a new chapter of my life to begin but also nervous, as I had no idea of what to expect, didn’t know anyone and didn’t have any clue of what university life would be like. For anyone that doesn’t know what fresher’s week is, it’s a way of getting new students settled in and familiarising them with university life by holding events and having introductory lectures. I didn’t get involved with the events because they weren’t very accessible for me as a blind person and also the fact that I didn’t know anyone and didn’t really want to go on my own. I was quite nervous for the few weeks ahead because I thought everyone on my course would have made friends already and I’d be on my own but later on I found out that that wasn’t actually the case.

Once freshers week was over, it was time to start the course and therefore, lectures commenced. The first lecture I had, the lecturer told me that he had no idea that I was going to be in his lectures and that he didn’t know he had a blind student. This wasn’t true at all, my Head of Programme had reassured me that all the lecturers did know that I was going to be there and what they had to do. So as a consequence of him apparently not knowing, I hadn’t been sent any materials for the lecture so my note taker had to read everything out to me. This made me feel like I was back in school, not at university at all. What a great start! Luckily this all got sorted and this didn’t happen again. This was an issue that did not repeat itself. A positive outcome of this particular experience, was that the staff involved truly wanted to resolve the situation, rather than feel like they had to. Staff at my university looked beyond my disability. Other than that, there weren’t any major hiccups in first year which I was extremely happy about.

In terms of support, in the first semester I received note-taking support and library support but nothing else. I thought that I could be independent and do the majority of things myself. I soon realised that there was no harm in using extra support and learnt that this was invaluable in the long run. I also had proofreading support from then on, and personally I think it helped to boost my grades. The disability support service was very proactive in sorting support which was fantastic. This did not mean that there weren’t any challenges because they really were, but they helped resolve them to the best of their ability. In terms of accessing materials, I used my DSA equipment (laptop with Jaws screen-reader, braille display and ClearReader+).

 

I got all of the lecture slides sent to me beforehand in an accessible format, some lectures even provided me with image descriptions which was brilliant. Accessing books was a bit harder especially if they weren’t available as eBooks. Publishers are restricted by copyright laws which means that they can’t just distribute electronic copies of books, this meant that I had to request books that I required much earlier than my peers, in order for the library to get me an accessible copy. The library did everything they could to ensure that I had the books in an accessible format as quickly as possible.

The social aspect of university was something that I thought I’d struggle with, due to my negative experiences in school. However, at university, this was completely different. People came up to me and spoke to me, which I didn’t expect which really helped. I didn’t join any societies in my first year of university but made some good friends on my course. It’s important to remember that everyone comes from a different walk of life at university and there are many students with disabilities so you’re not alone.

 

Second year

I remember going into my second year of university feeling excited for the year ahead; something that I had never really felt whilst being in education. I will admit, second year was such a huge jump academically from the first; I don’t think we were fully prepared for how hard it was going to be. There were a couple of minor glitches like lecturers not sending me work in advance but this was all resolved quickly. Nevertheless, I finished second year on track for a 2:1 overall if I kept that standard of work up throughout third year…no pressure then!

Support in second year ran smoothly – there were no major issues and I once again was grateful for the support that I received.

I think second year was by far my favourite year in terms of the social aspect of university. I had a good, solid friendship group and we all got on really well. I also joined the disabled society, “superhuman society” as it was called. I also made some friends through that and was also asked to be a committee member so that helped me broaden my circle of friends. Some of my favourite memories have to be our regular visits to Pizza Hut and our cocktail evenings.

I spent the summer planning my dissertation and doing some research so that I could try and at least do some preparation and be ahead of the game as I was expecting that third year was going to be the most challenging year yet. Over the summer I had developed some problems with my eyes, I had no idea that this would continue into my third year of university.

 

Third year

Third year was very hard, extremely stressful and presented me with various personal challenges but I learnt a lot from those. I had problems with my eyes, resulting in me having to have an operation in January, right in the middle of my third and final year. I actually did some dissertation work whilst waiting to be called for my operation…dedication or what? I didn’t let that stop me though, I just got on with it and I feel like those challenges gave me the motivation to carry on and get through it. I was surrounded by incredibly supportive people and I couldn’t have done it without them. The university were really accommodating as well, providing me with extensions for my assignments and also any other support that I required.

The main piece of work was a 10,000 word dissertation. Before writing it, I didn’t think I even knew 10,000 words! It was by far the hardest piece of work that I’ve ever had to do but I am pleased to say that I achieved a 2:1. I’m so proud of it and all the effort that I put in towards getting the grade that I so wanted. As well as my dissertation, I also had several 5000 word essays to complete. I completed all of my work on my laptop, and also used my braille display and my OrCam for reading materials. I couldn’t have done my degree without this equipment, especially my laptop with Jaws screen-reader.

 

There were no major academic issues in my third year, all of the lecturers that I had had previously taught me so I definitely think that this was a bonus.

The support that I received in third year was invaluable, it made my final year a lot easier. Having support meant that I didn’t struggle on my own, it made tasks such as finding books and journals and proofreading so much easier. I felt very lucky with the support that I received throughout my time in higher education, especially third year, as it really helped with my studies. The only difficult part was not just being able to get books for my dissertation when and when I needed them, but the library did their best to accommodate and they did a great job of doing so. I think the support in third year was a step up from previous years, as I really got on with the people supporting me, they really understood my needs and went above and beyond to support me.

The social aspect of third year was interesting, as I really found out who my true friends were. The stress of third year tested friendships, but we all got through it which I’m extremely happy about. I’m so proud of all of my friends as they all achieved the grades that they wanted which they thoroughly deserve.

 

Overall thoughts

I am extremely pleased to say that I will be graduating with a 2:1 BA (Hons) in Children, Young People and Families! A 2:1 was the grade that I was hoping for. The stress really started to take its toll on me towards the end but I’m so glad it was worth it. If there’s one thing that I’ve learnt from my university experience is that hard work most certainly does pay off and determination is key.

So as you can tell, my overall experience of university has mainly been a positive one. There has been challenges along the way and it hasn’t all been plain sailing, but that’s to be expected. I know that everyone’s university experience is different, and I feel very lucky for the experience that I have had.

I’ve learned a lot whilst being at university, I ppreviously wrote a post about things that university has taught me which you can read here. My confidence has grown so much over the last three years, I also feel like I’ve really found my true self. I’ve also become so much more independent and I feel so much more comfortable in using a cane.

I could go into a lot more detail, but this is just a snapshot into my experience in higher education over the last three years.

I feel like I’ve wrote a book but before I finish this post, I’d like to thank a few people as I know some of them will be reading this post.

Firstly, I would like to thank my family, especially my Mum and Dad as they’ve always been there for me, supported me in everything that I’ve embarked on and made sure that I had the provisions and support in place in order to succeed. They really have been my rock.

I’d also like to thank my friends, they’ve always been there for me, and have given me some wonderful memories.

I’d like to thank everyone that’s ever supported me in education – you helped me get to where I am today through your hard work and dedication and I will forever be grateful. It’s given me some special people in my life. Many of you went above and beyond to ensure that I could succeed, and you looked beyond my disability and were willing to adapt and learn about my visual impairment.

I’d finally like to thank my readers; your support has really helped me and motivated me over the last couple of years. You’ve taken a keen interest in my blog, which then inspires me to write content for you all.

I could go on and on but this post is long enough already!

It’s the end of an era for me, I’m feeling both excited and nervous about the future. I’d like to work within the field of visual impairment, supporting people like myself so we will see where life takes me.

That concludes today’s post everyone, thank you so much for reading! If you got to the end then well done!

Are you a disabled student? What are your experiences of university? Let me know in the comments.

I hope this post has helped some of you.

I’ll be back soon with another post.

Holly x

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Things University Has Taught Me

Hello everyone,

I hope you’re all well.

I am approaching the end of my degree, and my time at York St John University is coming to an end. It’s only a matter of weeks until my final assignments will be submitted and a matter of months until I graduate!

The last three years have been a bit of a whirlwind, there’s been some amazing times but also some rubbish times too, times where I’ve wanted to drop out but here I am! Going to university has taught me a lot so I wanted to share some of the things it’s taught me with you all.

I’d like to do more university related posts in the next few months so if you have any suggestions then please do send them my way! Feel free to leave them in the comments below or to contact me.

Without further ado let’s get into today’s post!

 

Having a disability is completely fine.

There are probably more people that have a disability at university than you realise so it’s completely normal. It’s not like mainstream school or college where there are very few disabled people and chances are you are the only one with a disability, university is completely different. There’s people from all walks of life at university, with a range of disabilities.

 

Being different is okay.

I think at university you reach a point where you realise that there’s no point being anyone but yourself.

 

Fight for what you need and what you’re entitled to.

If you need support such as Disabled Students Allowance then fight for it, if you’re struggling and need help, make sure you receive it. At university, people have your best interests at heart and the majority of them want to help you.

 

It’s ok not to be ok.

University can be an extremely stressful time and you can experience a rollercoaster of emotions. There is always someone out there that you can talk to and support is always available.

 

Life isn’t what you always expect.

This has most definitely been true for me over the last three years; I’ve changed my mind on what career I want a number of times which has completely thrown me off track at times. There was appoint in my second year of university where I didn’t even know if I was on the right course, I didn’t know what I was doing with my life basically. It wasn’t what I expected to happen at all, but I stuck with it, and here I am, about to (hopefully) graduate in a few months.

 

Independence is key.

Whether this is moving away from home, becoming more confident in using a cane, applying for a guide dog etc, taking those steps to independence is so important. This can often mean stepping out of your comfort zone and facing new challenges, but it’ll more than likely be worth it! Independence is different for everyone, so whatever it is you do, be proud of yourself because it’ll help you in the long run.

 

Drama still exists.

If you thought you left those friendship or boyfriend dramas behind in school or college, they decide to make an appearance at university. But be the bigger person and sort them out.

 

You will find out who your true friends are.

Like everything, university has most definitely taught me who my true friends are and you know what? It feels good.

 

Lecturers want you to succeed.

They have your best interests at heart, it’s important to ask for help if you’re struggling and ask questions.

 

Deadlines come quicker than you think.

Preparation is vital to ensure that you don’t get bogged down with all the work and add extra pressure.

 

Organisation is key.

Leading on from the previous point – this is fairly self explanatory but it’s important to organise your assignment, work commitments and social activities so that you have a good balnce and stay on top of everything. University is stressful and it’s very easy to get bogged down with the all the work.

 

Referencing is the bane of your life.

Chances are you’ll enter first year not really knowing how to reference or what you’re doing, it’s frustrating! There are many tips and tricks that can help you along the way and for it to be less of a pain.

 

Hard work really does pay off.

I know it doesn’t always feel like it in the process but if you put your mind to it, then you can achieve anything you put your mind to. If you put the work in and try your best then it’s something to be proud of. This has definitely become more apparent to me now that I’ve finished my dissertation!


(Photo of Holly holding her completed dissertation which has been printed and bound, it looks a bit like a book)

 

University is so much more than a degree.

I think we all get so caught up in the work that we often forget this, I do anyway. The degree is vital obviously, but university is also about the friends you make, the life lessons you learn and it’s also about growing as a person.

 

I hope you enjoyed this post and that it has possibly helped some of you that are transitioning to university or that are currently at university. If you are a student, what has university taught you? Let me know in the comments!

Holly x

How I Balance Blogging and University

Hello everyone,

I hope you’re all well.

As you can tell from the title, today’s post is about how I balance blogging and university.

It can be tough and I don’t post as often as I’d like to but that’s due to a lack of time, but I am always working on my blog, a lot of it being behind the scenes so you may not see or read it.

Being a third year student in the last few weeks of my degree, and also working for a wonderful sight loss charity, the pressure is well and truly on and the stress levels are high! On top of that my visual impairment can add extra stress and pressures like resources not being accessible, organising support and things like that. That’s all part and parcel of having a visual impairment, but it can take a lot of time up and can be a lot harder compared to sighted people.

I have come up with ways in which I balance university and blogging which work well for me so I wanted to share them with you all. I hope some of you find today’s post useful!

 

Plan ahead

Everyone says ‘plan’ but it is key when you’re a third year student and blogger. Personally, I use the calendar app on my phone to plan and organise things coming up such as deadlines, meetings for work, tutorials, social events and basically everything that I’m doing. That way, I can plan ahead and know what I’m doing when and where I need to be at specific times.
Prioritise

Whether you’re a student, blogger or neither, this tip is so important for everyone. It’s so easy to get caught up in the stresses of university and life in general that we don’t often know where to start. University will always come first for me, so if I have any deadlines looming then those are my priority!

To prioritise, I write myself a to-do list every night so that I can wake up the next morning  knowing exactly what I need to do. I then go through this list and work out which things are my priority and make sure that they’re at the top of the list. My to-do lists include things such as dissertation and assignment goals, other work that I need to do for my job or just in general, blog posts that I need to write or schedule etc. It’s a great way of prioritising what is most important and what needs doing when. I use the notes app on my iPhone to write these lists, it’s nice and simple.

(photo of iPhone)

Have a routine

I’ll be completely honest, I have days where I feel extremely unmotivated and exhausted that I don’t feel like doing any university work or writing blog posts but I try to stick to a routine.

For me, I like to get university work done during the day and spend my evenings writing blog posts and taking some time out for myself. Blogging is a hobby that I enjoy so I like getting some university work done, then sitting down and doing something that I enjoy afterwards.

 

Prepare blog posts in advance

When I have an idea for a blog post, I write it down in the notes app on my phone so that I don’t forget it and can come back to it.

I also try to write blog posts in advance so that I don’t have to rush them, especially if I have deadlines coming up.

I also use an app called Buffer to schedule tweets in order to promote my posts, if I know I won’t have time to sit and promote them on social media myself. Work in bulk.


(photo of the app Buffer)

This can often be quite hard to do if you’re like me, and run out of hours in the day to get everything done that you need to! Working in bulk means that you don’t have to rush posts and write content that you’re not happy with. If you work in bulk, you can post content when you have time or schedule it and it’s extremely rewarding knowing that it’s ready for you to schedule or post.

 

Take time out for yourself

This is definitely something I have been guilty of not doing and I’ve got to the point where I’m extremely exhausted and stressed because I’ve been doing too much and working beyond my limits. I try to take time out for myself and do things like have a catch up with a friend, listen to music, read a book, have a long bath and generally do things that I enjoy doing. Taking time out for yourself means that you can recharge and relax so that you don’t burn out quickly! Since I’ve been at university, I’ve really started to realise that self care is so important.

 

So there you go, that’s how I balance university and blogging. I hope you enjoyed reading and that it helped some of you out there.

Holly x

The University Tag

Hello everyone,

Today I have a tag post for you all, I love a good tag post! This one isn’t exactly visual impairment or disability related but I thought as it’s the start of a new academic year and I’m going into my third year of uni I’d complete it in the hope that it gives you a bit of an insight into my university life and hopefully will be of use to some of you. Today’s post is The University Tag which was created by one of my favourite YouTubers Alice Thorpe. Make sure you check her YouTube channel out!

I haven’t done many university related posts so if you like this one and would like me to do more posts on my experiences of different aspects of university or guides for disabled students then do let me know.

Let’s get on with the tag!

  1. Where do you study?

I study at York St John University.

2. What do you study?

Children, young people and families (a long course name I know).

3. What year are you in?

I’m starting my third and final year! It’s quite scary but exciting!

4. Do you live at home or at uni?

I live at home. When I applied for university I didn’t have the confidence to live away from home. I’m glad I do live at home though as I can have home comforts at the same time! It’s surprising how many people do live at home and commute to university as when I started, I thought I’d be the only one.

5. How old are you?

20 years old.

6. What are your 3 uni essentials?

This is a hard one but I’m going to do this on a blind student’s perspective. My first uni essential would be a laptop with a screen-reader or magnifier whichever you require. You’ll use a laptop for all sorts of things, it’s a must have! My second uni essential would be any other specialist equipment that you may need. This could be a magnifier, braille display, kitchen equipment…whatever suits your needs but if you use it every day then it’s definitely a uni essential! You may be put off by getting such specialist equipment for whatever reason but if it’s something that you need then it will make university life so much easier. My third and final uni essential would be a decent sized bag! If you’re like me and have a lot of equipment to carry around with you then you need about 4 arms to do so. So a decent sized bag to fit everything in is a lifesaver! I have a lot more uni essentials so if this is a post you’d like me to do then do let me know.

7. What is your favourite meal to cook?

I do live at home so I’m very lucky to have home cooking but I’d say something quick and simple like a pasta meal.

8. What is the latest you’ve been to the library?

I like to be organised and do my work before it’s due in so I don’t have a last minute rush so I usually go to the library during the day or after lectures. Consequently, I haven’t been to the library extremely late.

9. Ever done an all nighter to finish work?

As I’ve said in the previous question I’m rather organised so I can happily say that I have never done an all nighter. It would stress me out way too much!

10. Your favourite university moment so far?

This is a really hard one as I’ve had some extremely good memories whilst being at university but the one that springs to mind would be going to Pizza Hut with my friends at the end of the first semester of first year; it was so lovely to celebrate our first semester together.

11. One piece of advice for a fresher

I know everyone says it but the most important piece of advice that I would give is to be yourself. If you don’t want to go out drinking or to a specific event all your flatmates are going to then you don’t have to. There’s no point following the crowd, peer pressure is definitely not the way to go! You will find people with the same interests as you so just be your own person and you’ll find people that love you for the real you.

12. Something you worried about for no reason?

My biggest worry when starting university was making friends. This was something that I struggled with in school so this really worried me. People always used to tell me that there’s people from all walks of life at university so you aren’t alone and this is most definitely true. When you start everyone is in the same position which makes it a lot easier to make friends and get to know people.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this post. Remember if you’d like me to do more university related blog posts then do let me know!

I nominate Beauty With Rach and Elin from the blog See My Way to do this tag! If you are a current university student or have been to university then feel free to join in with this tag yourself!

Holly x